Dont Finish The Sentence

by Stephen Boyd | July 31, 2004

Because we can think over four times faster than we can talk, we have a tendency to interrupt the person talking and finish sentences for him or her. It says, "What you are wanting to say is so obvious that I don’t understand why you don’t just spit it out! Here—I can do it for you."

Sometimes, our thoughts come rushing out and we’ve interrupted the person with our own ideas. This is not only disrespectful, but also shows that you think what you have to say is more important than what the other person is saying.

Neither of these situations sends a positive message to those talking. How can we improve our interpersonal relationships by not interrupting or finishing sentences for others?

First, determine to stay with the main idea of the other person’s conversation. Look for ways the talker illustrates or explains the point. This mental exercise will help you concentrate on the other person and thus you are less likely to interrupt. Summarize silently.

Second, listen as though you will ask a question. Even if you don’t get to ask it, concentrating on assimilating the talker’s information in order to ask a question will make it easier not to interrupt.

Finally, choose an "interruption-free trigger" that you can hold onto as you listen. Make for yourself the rule that as long as you have a certain pen or paper weight in your hand, you will not say a word. You can speak only when you lay down the pen or take your hand off the paperweight or other object. After doing this a few times, you will have developed the good habit of no longer interrupting and finishing other people’s sentences.

I read a story years ago about the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company wanting to buy Thomas Edison’s improved stock ticker invention. The sales person asked how much he wanted for it. Edison asked if he could talk it over with his wife. The two of them agreed that he should ask $5,000, though he thought he could accept $3000. Then Edison met with the salesman the second time. When the man repeated his question, Edison started to answer, but thinking that $5,000 was too much, hesitated before finishing his sentence. The salesman was impatient and jumped in with "How about $40,000?" Whether the story is true or not, it does illustrate the value of waiting until the talker has finished speaking before you respond.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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